Warning: Depictions of self-harm. Readers discretion is advised. Harvey's music blasted from his laptop, causing everything on his desk to vibrate. His pens and keys shook against the commanding sound waves, which jumped from its epicenter like an earthquake. He had turned the basement of his rental house into a DJ club. He was surprised a neighbor hadn't come banging on his door yet with fire in their eyes, asking him to shut it. “I ain't no therapist, but ya'll got the gist!” He sang the lyrics to his song even louder. It was a Thursday evening, and tomorrow was going to be his debut as a DJ at a local bar. There was no choice but to erupt his basement into an eardrum-smashing destruction - practice was all that filled his mind. The next verse featured a harsh rap which Harvey chanted along: “Money, cash, bank, the coins are in my fanny! Ya'll fuckin' mofos want empty hands, saying love, love love!” The music then spun into a dubstep-style track for a half minute, until the next verse arrived: “Ain't no fuckas saying no to ya'll dimes, just buy them bitches before they mine! Love ain't real, ya mental shit only wants to feel-” Cling! Harvey twitched and stopped his rap abruptly, startled by the loud clang below him which pierced his ear, even through his rowdy music. He directed his gaze below the table at the source of the noise. His lucky penny, which dropped to the concrete floor of his basement thanks to the loud vibrations of his table, was finishing its twirl before flattening. Face-up was heads instead of tails. “God dammit, can't believe I lost my groove just ‘cause of a coin,” Harvey muttered, and paused his music. He bent down to pick his penny up under the table. And that's when he heard it. Not the sound of his music; not the clinging of his coin. It was a faint rumble from upstairs in the house. Harvey glanced up to the ragged ceiling of his basement, pretending to see through the wood. His own music still echoed in his ear, making it hard to tell if he was only hallucinating. He looked back at the coin, peering at its shiny heads surface. It reminded him of a certain conversation he had with his housemate, Samuel, just a few days ago. “Dude, what if I told you I'd off myself based on the flip of a coin?” Samuel asked while sipping a beer next to his friend at their dining table. “The fuck? You're messed in the head, my guy,” Harvey replied, putting his can down and raising his eyebrows to his friend's weird statement. “Then the coin better land as a tails. You gotta support me for Friday night's party, it's my DJ debut!” “Haha, true that.” Harvey's eyes glared at the penny for only another second before a dark feeling of unease filled him to the brim. Samuel had never made such a joke before during the three years he knew him. Wait, he can't be ser-! Before the thought fully passed through his mind, his body moved before his brain. Without picking the coin up, Harvey dashed down the hallway to the stairs of his basement. He leaped a few steps up and reached the first floor of his house without issue. That was when the rumbling noise from one more floor above had become real. There was shaking between the walls, yet no footsteps bounced into his ear. “Shit!” he gasped. He ran to the next staircase, and flung himself up to the top floor of his house. In front of him was the door to his housemate's room. Grabbing the doorknob, Harvey gritted his teeth when it wouldn't open. “You fucking idiot!” he screamed and clenched both his hands into stone to brace for impact, and readied the kick of his life. His body flung at the door, shoe first at the knob, and he jumped as if delivering a karate hit. Thump! He watched the knob cave into the cracked wood, until splinters emerged. Finally, on the fifth attempt - Thwack! - the knob fell through the crack of broken timber, and Harvey barged into his friend's room. He reached to the back of his pants for his pocket knife - a small Swiss Army blade which featured multiple tools - and glanced desperately around for the silent Samuel. After performing a three-sixty, his eyes landed on - The closet! Harvey gulped. With his head covered in sweat, goosebumps devouring his skin, and every limb jittering, he swung open the sliding door to Samuel's closet. “Fucking hell.” The sight of his unconscious friend, hanging on a rather thin rope tied into a noose, was almost enough to give him a heart attack. Instead, his chest sank like a ship, and his hands twitched while reaching for the rope to cut it. With every back-and-forth movement of his knife, the tears around Harvey's eyes grew. By the time his friend dropped to the floor, those tears had already trickled down his cheeks. “Wake up, please, I'm begging you!” He dragged the fainted Samuel out of the closet, laid him on his back, and began performing CPR on both his chest and his mouth. After what felt like forever, Samuel's eyes slowly opened.
Aside from introducing myself, I'm really unsure of where to begin. This probably isn't the beginning of my story but it's definitely a start. Have you ever heard someone say, "I had to grow up too quickly" or "I didn't have a childhood"? Those simple statements are the literal definition of my life. At 9 years old, I didn't know how to be a child. I never played with friends, went to sleepovers, or had birthday parties. I was too busy taking care of my two younger siblings. Making bottles, getting them dressed, changing diapers, cooking meals, giving baths... the whole nine yards. I was raising children that I didn't create. I was raising children as a CHILD. My "parents"? They were drunk. They were high. They were fighting. They were passed out. They were somewhere else. One of my earliest memories includes packing lunches for my sister and I before school. We lived in a little trailer in Powell, Wyoming and we walked to school every day. Rain, shine, snow, sleet. We walked. One morning on our way out the door my sister asked for popsicles. Being a child myself, I grabbed us some popsicles and tossed a knife inside her backpack so we could open them on the way to school. Here we are two young children probably 6 & 9 walking to school, eating popsicles and minding our own business. That is until we finally arrived at school and my younger sister's teacher decides to go through her backpack in search of something - but what she finds instead is the knife. Landing my kindergarten sister in the principal's office. Before long the school officer is involved, my parents are called and all of us are sitting in the office. I can remember the tears rolling down her face as the school officer explains how serious this is. Little does he know, I'm the one who put it in there this morning. As he scolds my sister, I can feel the rage welling up inside myself. Because I know it was my fault. The only other thing I remember about that day is getting whopped later that evening after school. It was "MY responsibility" to get us both to school. It was "MY responsibility to make sure she was safe. It was "MY responsibility".... But I was 9. I was supposed to be the child, not the adult. It should have NEVER been my responsibility to set an alarm. It should have NEVER been my responsibility to wake up my younger sister and get us both ready for school. It should have NEVER been my responsibility to begin with. However, looking back now I realize I'd gladly take that beating all over again because it meant that my sister wouldn't have to. I was forced to grow up early. I never got a childhood. I was "mom" to my siblings. I was the adult in my home. Even though I was only 9 years old...even though I was a child.
We often undermine how much maintaining a pleasant space around us can contribute positively to our state of mind. Of course, having a nice budget to decorate and create the office of your dreams would be great, but you don't necessarily need that. Things as simple as maintaining the space around you clean and organised can go much further than any of us imagine, until we go from living in a cluttered space to living in a a space that has... well, actual space. Particularly in relation to remote working, besides this general rule, these are just some of the little things you can do to help yourself feeling and performing better: 1. Keep your desk tidy, and as free of objects as possible. For example, since I like to keep my furniture to a minimum, I only keep by my side the essential documents I might need in any of my working days in my working backpack. It works as an archive, avoids an extra piece of furniture, and is always ready to go if I need to leave for work purposes in a hurry. If you have too much, consider getting a simple piece of furniture that you can have next ot your desk and will keep all your paperwork organised. 2. Transfer everything you can to a digital format - everyone give me A HANDS UP FOR THE CLOUD WHOOP WHOOP! Turn everything into a google docs, spreadsheet, etc., label it or put it into folders according to theme, and never again lose a document! You can always download the most important ones to access offline, so you can access them in a hurry on your laptop if you're away, or there's a temporary network issue. 3. Adjust your screen height to avoid keeping your neck twisted down as much as possible. If you don't have a separate screen, consider one of those standing desk additions, so you can keep a laptop at a perfect height. 4. Adjust your screen brightness to a comfortable level - bear in mind, this might vary throughout the day, according to your light environment. Dark mode is something I go for whenever possible, maybe give it a try and see if it's kinder on your eyes - mine really appreciate it. 5. Do not forget to use a planner that is good enough to help you plan a reasonable workload for the day, that helps you prioritise better, and that allows you to adapt and change your priorities throughout the day if need be. For me, this is @Audacitytasks due to its time buckets and drag and drop features (amongst others exclusive ones I love). 6. Unless literally impossible due to the nature of your work, only keep your work mobile on your desk. Even if you keep your personal one in silent mode, or even turn it around, as long as you can see it, there'll always be that temptation to have a look, touch the screen just to see what's going on "really quick" (yeah right)... If it's in another room, or at least not right there so accessible to your hand's (and thus mind) reach, you'll be less likely to be tempted to leave your desk to grab it, and probably you won't even remember it as much, as it's not in your field of vision (even if just by a millimetre). If this is helpful, keep following for more advice on remote working. You can also read my previous articles on this matter on my LinkedIn or Facebook, or see the more compacted version of it on my instagram. Hope you have fun doing it :D
The screaming had stopped, at least that was one thing. We could all take a second to catch our breath. On my right, my arm clung to my patient who sat rocking backward and forward on the chair. On the other side, my colleague - mirroring my position, my posture, my heavy breathing. The only difference; the fogged up glasses on her face. There had been crying, there had been grabbing, there had been attempts to harm themselves. We had prevented it. We had stopped it. We had helped. Hadn't we? The pandemic was in full swing. We had at least 50% of patients on our ward with a positive test result. Most of them were self-isolating in their bedrooms, with the others barely daring to come out. The ones that did tended to be acutely unwell and simply did not or could not understand the current situation regarding COVID-19. Our ward was locked down, nobody in, nobody out. PPE on, changed after every patient interaction, all safety measures put in place.. until they weren't. What do you do when a paranoid patient thinks you are a robot hiding your face with a mask? You cannot remove it. For both your sake and theirs. They become upset, distressed. They scream, they shout. They retaliate, they lash out. They are medicated, sedated. They wake up, and go again. What do you do when a patient feels so hopeless that they will use any means necessary in an attempt to end their life. They try to swallow toilet paper, so we have to remain in possession of it. They try to snap pens, so we hide them. They try to use clothing to stop them from breathing, so we limit access. But what do we do when we have to go in wearing masks, gloves and aprons? An abundance of opportunities for the patient to obtain and misuse. How do you tell their loved ones that you literally provided them with the means to devastatingly hurt themselves? If you figure it out, please let us know. What do you do when a patient is so thought disordered, they cannot even remember to eat and drink. They spend most of their time rolling round their bedroom floor, eyes darting round the room, too engrossed in what they can see and nobody else can. They will not even take medications for you, to get themselves better. They see you in your mask, your visor, your gloves, reaching toward them, touching them. They are scared. They are dismissive. They are unwell. 12 hour shifts, 4 days a week. Masks on constantly, chafing at the ear. Hands dry, cracked and swollen from the prolific hand-washing going on. Dehydrated, both our palms and our bodies. Changing in and out of uniform before and after shift. Washing uniforms on abhorrently high temperatures, just to be safe. Persistent home-tests to ensure we are still virus-free. The extra time it takes to shower both before and after your 12 hour shift, losing out on sleep. But we are here. We are helping. We are the NHS. Inpatient mental health facilities are challenging places to work at the best of times, never mind in the midst of a global pandemic. Patients do not suddenly stop being psychotic or depressed, just because the world is in lockdown. They are not able to socially distance. Some of them rely on proximity and closeness in order to stop themselves from hurting - both physically and mentally. Some of them have no sense of personal space. We cannot administer medications in a socially distanced manner, we cannot monitor and record physical health observations 2m apart, we cannot stay home. So here we are, and here we will continue to be.
The last year has taken so much from us. I am almost certain that I do not only speak for myself when I say the pandemic made me experience life as an hourglass that somehow both increased and decreased in speed. To put it bluntly - we've been robbed of life. Whether this has affected our relationships, opportunities or even time with loved ones, we have all been forced to make adjustments. I distinctly remember the day my country's government announced the groundbreaking news that students in highschool and university would shift to online education. My classmates cheered happily and couldn't wait to get an extra hour of sleep in the morning. However, days quickly turned into months and months quickly turned into a blur of tired eyes and a rapidly growing pile of work. Life has been difficult. However, the pandemic has also given a lot of us perspective. Perspective. What does that imply? Of course the definition of the word in this particular scenario can not be defined. To me, nonetheless, perspective meant that I noticed something I was too busy, too active and too unavailable to notice before. I noticed how much I have improved as a person. Let me explain. When I was a young child I used to write in a diary. However, not the sparkly, fluffy notebook with a heart lock on it. Surely I had one of those too, but this one was completely different. It was handed to me by my psychologist whom I visited every week. I don't remember much of this time in my life as I was only around nine years old. In addition to that, it's a part of my life that I sometimes actively choose to push away. It was not a pleasant time. Almost every night I had panic attacks and more often than not I used to ask myself if this was the time that I would die. During dinner I would go to the bathroom only to calm myself down from the anxiety that was running around my brain like a dog chasing a tennis ball on an open field. When I think of this time I quickly realize how messed up my mind was for a nine year old. Of course I feel sorry for my younger self. But I also try to let it slip from memory. That's why the experience of finding this diary was so important to me. Lockdown made my mental state so much worse than before. I have felt lonely, sad and tired. But what has made it the most unbearable are the spiraling thoughts in my head that never seem to take a break. I understand that the journey and relationship between a person and their mental health is not always a linear one. I understand that certain situations can make it harder to create a positive mindspace. But what I have a hard time understanding is why I can't just get a ticket that tells me when this suffering will be over. When the train of anxiety will leave. When I can wave it goodbye. Sometimes it's not even the anxiety itself that keeps me up all night. Sometimes it's simply the awareness of the fact that it exists, and that deep down I feel it knows me better than I do myself. When I opened the pages to that diary I was taken on a journey through my mind. It was weird. Imagine going on a vivid tour through the most personal and bottomless part of your past. I swiftly remembered writing those words. Those sentences. One part of the book was a chart where you could rate the level of fear a certain trigger made you feel. As I read through that segment I suddenly felt what I believe is the true meaning of perspective. While not a perfect line, I could still observe the progression that only a few moments earlier had been fully invisible. My baby steps were actually the size of a dinosaur's. Not one thing on the list I had made when I was nine even remotely scared me anymore. If I were to fill out the chart once more all the tens out of tens would be zeros. I felt proud of myself. It made me rethink those times that I've doubted the fact that I will ever feel better. That I will ever see that ticket in my hand. I am not cured. Not even close. But it doesn't matter because this story is not the story of how I finally became anxiety-free. Instead, it's the story of how I found the strength to keep working towards that goal. Maybe someday I will be writing essays concerning my full mental health battle, but not today. And that is perfectly okay. I have put that journal back in my closet and I don't intend to look at it for a long time. But it will always be a reminder that even the tiniest improvements are still steps in the right direction. If you've made it to this sentence, thank you. Thank you for taking a little time out of your day and dedicating it to reading about my life. I can confidently say that this little story means a lot to me, and sharing it makes it even greater. While I know nothing about your story or about your journey, I know that whatever you're struggling with will be solved someday. And who knows. Maybe you need to do what I did. Maybe the solution is right there. Maybe you need to see things from another perspective.
*trigger warning rape & cancer* I want you to take a second and think about one thing about yourself that -if you had the ability to go back in time and change your life- you would not change for the world. There is an 19th century philosophy, made famous by the movie The Butterfly Effect, that claims that if there is one thing about yourself, one trait or characteristic that you would want to keep if you found yourself suddenly able to go back in time, you would need to re-live the same experiences and make all the same decisions in order to guarantee that in the future you would retain that one quality. And it is this I want you to remember as I share my story. As a child, I did not get into trouble. In fact, the worst infraction I ever made was that I did not spend enough time in the sun, and so my parents would take my books away to force me to go outside. Naturally, I worked out a system to hid them in ziplock bags under the hedge. As I grew older, I also learned that breaking the rules held greater consequences for me than for my friends. While my affluent teenage peers were able to break curfew and notoriously climbed onto the top of the city capital to drink beer, my parents could not afford expensive lawyers to get me out of trouble. There was also a question of my legal residency. When it came time to learn how to drive, my parents taught me that I could not afford to speed or break the speed limit because it could result in my deportation. And while this lesson may have been exaggerated to keep a teenager safe, it became my truth. The key here is that I followed the letter of the law and did nothing wrong. When I was raped, I expected the legal system to protect me. In my darkest hour, when the campus police showed up, I thought that they would be on my side. While no woman should ever have to know how to report a rape, this was certainly not something I was equipped to handle alone. The campus police not only bullied me and warned against ruining the career and future of my rapist, they threatened my legal status and suggested that I might be deported if I wanted to make a formal claim. But MY story is not about my rape. It is about learning to live and remold myself after trauma and after being let down by the system meant to protect me. Two years later, I was diagnosed with skin cancer so severe that if I had not booked a visit to the dermatologist on a whim, I would have lost my eye in less than a year. I drove myself to the surgery and watched as my face was carved from my eyelid to my cheek. But once again MY story is not about getting skin cancer, or the additional two melanoma diagnoses three years later that suggest that I will likely continue to present with skin cancer the rest of my life. It is not even about the fact that I had done nothing wrong, that I had always worn copious amounts of sunscreen, that as a child I had to be forced outside and seldom spent time in the sun. It is not about the fact that the doctors did not believe me when I told them that I had never tanned in my life, because I was slim, blonde-haired and blue-eyed. In 2018 I had my first panic attack. I was attending a conference for work, sitting in a room of over 10 thousand people, and suddenly I felt powerless, lost and like I was sinking. My colleague with me at the time was a Marine veteran and instantly recognized the signs, but I had lived a sheltered and protected life, so it did not occur to me that I had PTSD, for my experience did not seem as valid as that of veterans and survivors of horrific disasters. For although I had never realized it, I fell into the habit of comparing my experience to that of others, to comparing my pain, my stress, my fear and my recovery, and finding it less worthy. But let me tell you that any PTSD is worthy of attention and every experience is valid. I started my tattoos in 2019. One on each shoulder as a reminder that I am not alone. My 'strong women' and 'warrior' tattoos are as much a testament to the resilient woman I have grown to be, as a symbol of the indelible presence of trauma. For although it is not inked into our skins, trauma can present and trigger in unexpected ways, even after years of self-work. I share my story because trauma and PTSD does not make you weak. It doesn't make you incapable of recovery or incapable of working through the episodes. It makes you human. I strongly believe in normalizing mental health for, if nothing else, we are brought together by the similarities of surviving: COVID, quarantine, the injustices and unpredictable illnesses that life throws at us. But we are stronger together. And each of us has that one thing that makes it all worthwhile.
My relationship with food is highly complicated. Good food is woven into the very fabric of my personality. Nothing cheers me up more than a good meal. Food teaches you patience. Either waiting for the food itself to be finished, or being patient with yourself to master a meal. Food teaches you caution. You can hurt yourself a multitude of ways making one dish. Food teaches you passion. Safe ingredient choices aren't the most delicious ones. Most importantly, we need food. We can't survive without it. So why would food be at all bad? The very reason food is good, echos my problem with food. I like too much of a good thing. I lack self-discipline. Food takes over. I eat and eat until the frustration goes away. Until I am emotionally content and physically drained. I let my emotions guide me and not the physiological signals God has so carefully placed in my body. I am the target, and food is the enemy. But no longer. I will no longer stand in perfect silence; allow people to shriek, “you're not fat!”, as I ponder at the appearance in the mirror that is so far from my personal standard. Food may be the enemy, but I am the conqueror. Call me David, and picture Goliath as a huge potato. I will win. And food will bow before me.
It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment I started having issues with my body image or self esteem, because those struggles are typically culminations of years of negative experiences, self-doubt or blatant insults regarding one's physical appearance. I have had people tell me I am ‘skinny', I have had people my own age and older point out love handles and cellulite, I have also had people grow frustrated and angry at my struggle with seeing myself on camera. People's negative words stubbornly lived in my mind, while compliments I would receive from friends and family were just them “being nice”. When I started allowing the opinions of others to dictate my own view of myself I can't remember, but I can remember when I first started slipping into extremely dangerous, harmful and unhealthy habits. Comparison- we all fall victim to it in some form or another. Whether we are comparing looks, financial status, career or success, we are inadvertently telling ourselves that we are lacking something- that we are not measuring up in some (or all) categories. I first started comparing myself to my friends in middle school. I went to private school, and most of my friends lived in nice houses and were well off. I did not and my family was not. So, there was that. I also realized I was a lot less calm and cool than my friends, louder and, in many people's eyes, just annoying. I remember a boy in my 6th grade class telling me, in front of a group of other kids that, “nobody likes you.” It was a real vote of confidence. I was still lucky, though, because I did have a small group of really supportive friends. Unfortunately, I could not understand why they wanted to be my friends, and I compared myself to them, too. There was a time when I wanted to take pictures with my friends; I even wanted to take pictures of myself. Sure, I had my negative thoughts about not being as pretty as my friends, or pretty enough for the boys in my grade, but I owned who I was and had not yet been infected by the idea that because I didn't look perfect, I was inferior. So one night in 2012, my little 11 year old self posted a picture of myself on the then relatively new instagram. I remember getting hyped up by some of my really sweet friends, but my gratitude quickly disappeared when three boys, simultaneously (they were all friends, and apparently couldn't do anything alone?) commented “ugly”. These boys- who were a very bland spectacle- were popular, well-liked and put on a pedestal by me and other girls. Whether they were ‘joking' or not is unknown and honestly irrelevant, but I was not in on the joke, I was the butt of it. I think I deleted the picture shortly after. While I battled my fair share of self-doubt in middle school, I graduated from 8th grade relatively unscathed and with a decent amount of self-love left. High school was a whole other animal. Again, I had some really good friends, but they couldn't always be there. I definitely looked on the outside how I felt on the inside- nervous, vulnerable and uncomfortable in my own body. And I think some people preyed on that. I was never physically hurt, but rude and personal comments, along with snickers as I would pass by certain people in the hallway were enough to cut through what I had once thought was thick skin. Even with my loving friends and family, my anxiety and essential lack of confidence started to prevail. Somewhere around the end of freshman year, I started to eat. A lot. I was depressed, hurt and empty. In a time where most people my age were savoring youth through football games, and school sports/clubs, I was tucked away in my room, because I truly reached the point where I wanted to stay there. I missed school a lot because of this, and my lovely, incredibly strong mom did not completely understand, but offered endless love and support. This love and support led to me finally seeing a professional about my issues when I was a sophomore, and I did find a lot of peace in that. However, I still had deep rooted issues that I was not addressing. Around the beginning of senior year, things had picked up in terms of socializing, but I had found a new enemy: myself. Once I would get my eating habits on the right track, I would have a bad day and fall right back into my old ways; it wasn't simply physical, it was mental. Eventually, I started making myself vomit, and I would abuse laxatives. I was hurting my mind and my body. This went on for about two years, until I finally reached the point where I couldn't do it to myself anymore. Who am I doing this for?, I asked myself. The answer: not me. I had been so caught up in making sure I was living up to what I thought others wanted, that I had neglected the 11 year old girl inside of me who felt ugly and needed love. I don't think I could do that to her again- I love her too much. This is me closing that door once and for all. I still have struggles, but I know one thing now: I am enough, and I always have been.
I am staring at the Van Gogh Picture as the dawn breaks in a sleepy little university town called Shantiniketan. After being holed up for months at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic (and immunocompromised family members), I feel like I can breathe again. I experience a rather unfamiliar sound at midnight- the sound of a barking deer. The house I am staying in has a haunted tale of its own. Many years ago, Maloti, an accomplished dancer and academic, died by suicide here. The neighbours attribute it to a lovers' tiff. Out of curiosity, a fifteen year old me delved into research about this mythical and mysterious Maloti. Maloti was as beautiful as she was sophisticated, with razor- sharp wit. She cared very little for social niceties and turned heads, wherever she went. "She was a true artist", said one of her uncles when I met him. " A true artist misunderstood by the world." Those words left quite an impression on me- a young person chasing their own dreams. Unlike Maloti, I wasn't an accomplished artist- but a young person that harboured those dreams. Even daring to articulate those dreams would be met with ridicule, and sneery value judgements. Wanting to prove myself and ultimately being burdened with the weight of other people's expectations, trying to be true to myself and authentic and being cut short by people in positions of power. Wanting to break away and experience freedoms but knowing that fending for myself would involve taking the already trodden path. I had already experienced the disdain that artists were met with. I read of freedoms in books and watched it in movies, but I wondered if a life like that would be possible for me. Sunflowers fascinate me. The reason they do is because wherever the sun moves, the sunflower turns its head to face the sun. In the biting cold, it is hard to think of sunflower fields. The first time I took comfort in looking at bits of a sunflower was when I chanced upon Ai Wei Wei's Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern Art Gallery in London. I was then a 21 year old university student, with barely any money, and big dreams. The art installation was a commentary on the mass production of Chinese goods and how they were subsequently sent to western countries. Each sunflower seed was crafted with porcelain and the feeling evoked by witnessing and experiencing that piece of art was understanding that artists could pour their frustrations and political thoughts into their work. That their art indeed was, political. I realised that my writing and my own art could become a tool through which I could shake off my own oppressions- being a woman, being a person of colour, being a young person whose work and words were not taken seriously, an individual who had no wishes to conform but was forced to do so, being reminded again and again through paperwork and through legislation that if I did not toe the line, if I wanted more for myself than was acceptable by my surroundings and my current context, the situation for me would prove to be dire. I sought my own experiences and my own joys from the world. What books could not teach me, I sought to teach myself. I worked in villages in India with no clean drinking water for months. I slept under the stars on a quiet night sky- the sound of lethal mosquitoes buzzing above my head. I worked with asylum seekers and refugees, which was actually one of the redeeming features of my week. Here is an excerpt of a letter I wrote to a friend, describing that time of my life : "Every day, I see ordinary people -people like you and I-wearing tattered clothes, with paint on their faces and pencils tucked behind their ears, sweating it out. There's this boy I see every day, he's about eighteen and if given a choice, he'd probably want to go to college as well. He often stops me on the street and asks me about what I study and I think he's quite a bright spark- and then I think about all the people back home, who should get an education and are not, it makes me very sad. I hope I don't grow into one of those people who shuts everything out and never does anything constructive by way of ensuring that kids are educated and well looked after. And working with children of refugees actually makes one understand how destitute these kids really are, unsheltered, unprotected, not knowing what tomorrow holds for them. Some children have never known their own homes, being carried from one shelter to another; they come from countries like Ghana, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, The Ivory Coast. Many of their parents have been intellectuals in their own country, they have spoken out against dictatorial regimes, they have condemned massacres, some of them will be executed as soon as they set foot on their home soil again. Most of these people are Asylum Seekers i.e. those who have not even been granted Refugee Status. Some are condemned because of their homosexuality and others, because of their religion." I hope I never stop feeling.
“Layla got admitted to a mental facility. She's been self-harming and she tried to kill herself.” Did I fail as a sister? Did society fail her? I thought I should feel upset or sad or worried for her, right? I'm supposed to be more concerned that she tried to take away her life and ask her how she's doing. But this wasn't how I felt. I was pissed. Your life isn't your own, you hurt people by making the choice to take your own life. I was so angry that she tried to go without some sort of goodbye or note. I was infuriated that she didn't try to fix the problem or get help. But I knew that if she was successful in her attempt, I would be having a different conversation. The successful cases always start out with people who were unhappy and struggled to reach out for help, and the only difference between them and Layla was that she failed. I thought I was heartless for my lack of empathy until I heard what my mom had to say about the next day: “Go to school tomorrow. Get the homework for your sister. If people ask where your sister is, just tell them that she got sick. You aren't lying to them. Don't tell your cousins, just keep this to yourself.” Our dirty little secret was swiftly swept under the rug and we were still the picture-perfect family that she imagined in her head. Do the work, get through the day, go home. It went like this for some weeks as Layla was in and out of that haunted building. That nightmare that put bars on an already trapped mind. She laughs about stories of "butt juice" and funny nurses, but I knew when she told me those stories that every night she cried herself to sleep on that firm mat, in a room of people she never knew before. Girls shared anecdotes that made Layla's story seem like a lullaby. I knew the cage that she had to suffer in for what must have felt like ages with only minutes of communication with friends and family on a daily basis. I walked around school pretending that everything was okay; all I had to do was say “my sister isn't feeling well” and smile. I know the frustration that my mother had to endure with Layla's situation, so I took care of myself. I was one less child to worry about. I didn't have time to be sad. Every day, after eight hours of pretending that everything was fine, I walked myself to the grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner, and when I got home, I would begin the process of feeding five mouths- one less than “normal”. I would clean up everything and get to work or bed. I didn't have time to be sad. That one weekend was supposed to be like rain in the desert. I was finally going out for the first time since the storm struck. I was out with a friend when I got the call. Words that would echo in my mind forever as I answered the phone to a furious mother: “I'm done. If Layla wants to kill herself, then fine, let her do it. I don't care anymore. I just want her gone and out of the house. I don't ever want to see her after she graduates high school” In the span of one month, I became a mom, a therapist, and alone. Part of me was furious that she couldn't maintain her composure and have the patience to attend to her mentally ill child after all the hours I spent to make sure she had little housework to do. But I knew when I heard those words that my mother wasn't trying to be difficult, it was her cry for help. “Hey, mom, you don't mean that. I know that she's frustrating at times, but she is your daughter and you love her. She is trying her best to get better, but it's a long process.” Who did I have to bring peace to my chaos? I grew even madder at no one. I took on extra responsibilities, I did what I was told to protect the perfect dollhouse image of our family, but in the process, I lost myself. I did nothing for myself and I stopped talking to the people that were knights in protecting my mental health when hell went loose. I found a safe haven in the one place I have never enjoyed since the third grade: math class. Anyone that tells you that math teachers are terrible people either (1) failed math or (2) never took a single good math course in their entire life. My math teacher let me rant to him about completely irrelevant details like the perks of being a Disney princess or the lack of warm bagels in the cafeteria on a daily basis. He was the only person to point out tendencies in Layla that kids my age have never recognized. He knew about the responsibilities that I had going on at home and it felt nice to be seen. I felt like I was sacrificing my time for people that didn't even notice me, but someone was looking in from the outside and he knew the pain I was putting myself through. He knew the fake smile that I put on and the fire that I couldn't seem to put out no matter how hard I tried. I didn't blame people around me for not seeing me clearly, I was simply grateful for finding a space where I could relax my shoulders and stop holding my breath.
This is one part of a short story about an experience with a mental illness. Part 3 – Mania with psychosis I turned from the window that overlooked the towering spires of Steel City. Before me, there sat a middle-aged man and an older woman. What is going on? Do they not see me for what I am? Why do they hold me in this building? It was time I took a stand once again. I grow tired of complacency. I folded my arms behind my back, and I spoke, “There's someone inside of me, a prisoner. He looks but he is not able to do anything but watch. He perceives and wants to take control. He is the utter other. He cannot make me do anything. I am the void. I am singular. Everything orbits me. I am infinite! It is my will. It will be done! Do not stop me. I am the creator. I feel everything because I am everything! What am I, who am I? I am the first, the only, and the last, infinity incarnate! Why do you forsake me? Why have you forsaken me? I am not talking to God. I am God! You must set me free! Do not persecute me!” The woman wiped tears from her eyes, and meekly replied, “David, it is me, Mom. This is not about religion. Can you realize where you are? You are in a psychiatric hospital and this is Doctor Ekin beside me. He has been taking care of you.” No. That cannot be! I am boundless. I started to pace around the room, and I said, “There is an alien intelligence invading our minds. I feel it out there. Do you not see it too? I must fight it! Only I can do this. It is who I am. I am like a superhero. I am the super and the hero! I will save humanity! You are all my children. Why do you not listen? Do you hear me and feel what I have become? How can this not be a reality? Look at me! Was this always me? I was depressed. I am sad no longer! I am awake now! I have awoken!” I stopped moving, stroked my chin, and asked, “What is going on? I must think. Think, think. Think thought. Knowledge at all cost! I am constant! I started this cycle of life! I bring things to being by traveling the universe. Where I come to be, so does reality! I put everything in motion as an experiment! I coded the universe to start the simulation of existence. Just as an artist uses a paint brush and a writer use a pen, I create using the keyboard of omnipotence.” My Mom wept and quietly spoke, “You're psychotic, David. You must realize this.” What? Am I crazy? Yes and no. I replied, “I see it for what it is now and what it was. I am it. I feel it. I will become it again. As always, I am, was, and will be! I am not binary logic! I am the one and the zero. Both! I created them. It is my design! You must leave. Leave now!” Doctor Ekin whispered into Mom's ear while he handed her a tissue box. My Mom looked at me with tears in her eyes, and she left the room. When she exited, I vigorously paced the room and yelled, “She has been, and I have been! Who is she to tell me what I know and who I am? She does not have the right! She does not listen! She never listens! Never let her in here again! She will not handle it! I am not her son any longer! I will rip apart her views!” Doctor Ekin nodded and suggested, “She will not be allowed back to visit unless you say otherwise. Your mother confirmed bipolar disorder does indeed run on her side of the family. We think you have it, specifically type one. We need you take an antipsychotic and a mood stabilizer to bring you back to stability. We have also stopped your antidepressant.” I laughed and replied, "Drugs! No! I have love! Where is Cat? She was supposed to waiting for me here. I love her. I did this for her. I will save everyone! I started everything for her. I did this for her, because of her. She is my love. The second part of me. This will be the ultimate gift of love. This is all one love story. Through time, I directed love from one point to another. Points ‘x' and ‘y.' I didn't know when ‘y' was, only that it would happen. She is the ‘a' to my ‘lone.' Together we are alone. We are one! We float and spin through time. Together! Not separate. Existence is a lie! It is one spiraling loop through time and space.” Doctor Ekin shook his head and said, “You decide your medication and the longevity of your stay. You will be here for at least two weeks. I can answer your earlier question as to what is going on. You are dealing with the mania aspect of bipolar, but you have psychotic features. This would take a toll on anyone and completely blind most people to reality. You seem to have some of yourself in there. You are very bright individual, David.” I yelled at him, "I am the vibrant light against the darkness! Shadows no more! I cannot go back to that grim place. How can I when I see and feel what I have become? Who are you? Where is my doctor? Are you my doctor? When will I see my doctor? Tell me now!”
Remember when you found out that COVID-19 would be more than a two-week ordeal and people started asking you questions like, “How are we going to cope with this scary time? How are we going to get used to seeing the world outside as dangerous? How are we expected to avoid approaching strangers and act like it is normal?” When my friends and I are asked questions like these, we reply with a sigh: “This has been my normal since long before the pandemic.” Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, we are neurologically unreliable at distinguishing what is safe from what is life-threatening. From my friend who is afraid to go outside – in case he sees a “disgusting” bird – to another who has struggled with a career in fashion – she views certain patterns on clothing as “bad luck” – to another who has avoided new restaurants – he is “deathly afraid” of getting food poisoning – you would think my crew is a non-spontaneous bunch. You would be wrong; these same people are fine with riding rollercoasters, driving fast cars, and swimming with sharks! OCD is a misunderstood beast. Contrary to what the media will tell you, a person is not “a bit OCD” when they appreciate order, cleanliness, or perfection. OCD is a disorder you either have or do not have that consists of unwanted obsessions or thoughts, feelings, images, or urges that “get more stuck” than the average person's, because patients misjudge how much their thoughts influence their and others' lives. These obsessions cover a wide range of themes – from a need for neatness, to fears that they are secretly pedophiles, a violent person, or going to Hell. What they worry is true is really the exact opposite of their values. This is how the disorder creates crippling fear. If your biggest fear were replayed on a loop daily, would your brain not get desperate trying to stop it? That is where compulsions come in. OCD tells patients that, to relieve anxiety, they must do mental or physical actions in certain ways. Since I was little, I remember feeling the need to blow a kiss to my bedroom ceiling before I left the house without knowing why. I just knew that if I did not, I would get bad luck, die, or anything in between. The catch with compulsions, other than making people the targets of bullying, is that doing them only temporarily relieves anxiety and makes the symptoms worse by confirming to their brains that the obsessions were correct to fear. It often takes years of expensive therapy to break every weird habit. Why was I trapped as a homebody before COVID-19? My OCD, specifically its perfectionism, contamination, and harm themes, got so severe at the beginning of 2020 that I had to leave college on medical leave, for the second time, and return home. I was so scared of the world that I only left my house for psychiatric evaluations. I barely kept myself alive because I was not able to eat or get through the day without having at least two multi-hour panic attacks. A good night's sleep meant that I did not wake up crying from a nightmare that I had drowned in an elevator filled with blood. During those first four months, I could count the things I was not afraid of on one hand. What got me through that seemingly impossible period to get to where I am now, the best my symptoms have ever been, other than Exposure Response Prevention therapy (accepting the potential consequences of obsessions and facing fears by not doing compulsions), was the connections I formed with my friends. Granted, they are much harder to cultivate in these physically distant times. So, imagine what it does to an OCD sufferer, who relies on day trips and nights out to distract from the spiral of distressing thoughts, when it becomes physically impossible to maintain those same healthy coping skills. The answer: more time alone with their thoughts leads to the return of past behaviors and new symptoms enabled by a world saying that it is “understandable” to be scared. I had to get craftier, literally, with my distraction techniques: I got back into making jewelry for my Etsy, Jazzories; writing mental-health-related poetry for my Instagram followers; and starting a makeshift Zoom support group for my fellow OCD warriors. You could say that self-expression led to the connections that have kept me alive in a climate of death. I believe those connections mean something: myself is worth expressing. This lesson is confirmed by the comments I get from people saying they relate to my story. What is the story those of us with OCD want shared? We ask that you understand us, not pity us, because we will win despite this biological bad draw. Understanding of OCD leads to faster diagnoses (the IOCDF states that on average, OCD patients get diagnosed 14-17 years after symptoms first appear) and better, more affordable treatment. Lastly, next time someone calls themselves OCD as a quirky adjective instead of a serious disorder, please educate them with an infectious smile!
With the fading of the music~ and the return of calm, is an opportune moment to touch base with your heart parallel to your thoughts a systemic disagreement the dismemberment of your enthusiasm. With a discord in your humanity, and the loss of grit an emptied conscientious the very loss of meaning with no one is close enough to rescue you from the snares before you as you brace for a pitfall into the galaxy the numbness of your physical being a flashlight into the everlasting as you become aware of a higher power taking over. Your ability to control is disabled as the pills the knives and loneliness become your closest companions demanding your love and affection an immense unity you won't return from the awakening of your loved ones unaware of your struggles a little too late for a remedy the beginning of the end a life cut so short...
Who am I. What right do I have to feel this way. Millions have died, some struggling to live, while others going through the most ineffable sufferings. Precious and dear lives have been snatched away by a very well-known adversary, death. Yet still, here I am, with the mere audacity to feel what I consider as - sadness? Here I am, with the absurdity of my emotions and the insanity of my thoughts. I have been in this deep, dark pit too before: shutting out any form of light and reveling in my own emptiness. It was that way until someone was brave enough to venture into the pit and save me. Well, it's different now. Social interactions are now perilous in such a way that it must be avoided at all times. Our natural desire for consolation and comfort in tough times was shifted to simply video calling and messaging. As convenient as it may seem, months with almost zero human contact turned out exasperating and troublesome. I, for one, deeply sunk into my own personal bubble where it seemed like there was no one else but me – no one to save me this time. All these humanitarian disasters, social crises, and global conflicts are unraveling in front of my very eyes. In all honesty, my so-called “problems” are trivial and insignificant in comparison to the chaos of this world. Stressing over the lack of food while others long for at least a biscuit to munch on. Complaining about my pathetic life when others are mourning over the loss of their loved one and fighting for their lives. Although I hate to admit, it is extremely tempting to just overlook all these and focus on my situation – to cancel out the noise in my surroundings. Indeed, these inherent instincts of mine start to kick in. Several news on social media do not seem to bother me as much as I believe it should. It became a personal struggle for me to remain alert on all the contemporary issues while handling my very own issues. After all this, I have come to a realization. I am not to let my pride and selfishness get in the way and cloud my judgement. I should not neglect the important things in these world just because of my needs. However, on the other side of the spectrum, any emotion or feeling that we may experience must not be disregarded and just pushed to the side. We are human beings with natural tendencies to feel sadness, anger, and confusion. Our very existence validates it. Although setting these aside may appear like the simplest and most apparent thing to do, we are unknowingly causing ourselves more harm than good. The first step we must take is to fully accept all these negative things as part of ourselves. Personally, I was caught up distracting myself from all the sadness until it consumed me, bit by bit. I forced myself to become happy, believing that being sad was not and should not be an option for me. I detested the feeling of extreme loneliness and somehow wished I'd never felt that way, which eventually led to hatred towards myself. “I don't deserve to be sad because of some stupid and petty reasons.” “I need to be happy, so others around me can be happy.” I tried, but no matter how much effort I put in, it would never truly work. Sadness, depression, anxiety, among many others, does not just simply disappear. Acknowledging my emotions played a huge role in this battle, realizing that it is okay to not be okay. Small steps toward the goal may not be a lot, but together they contribute to being completely “okay”. Even if it is as simple as taking care of yourself or doing something you love, do it. If it's listening to music or reading that book you've always wanted to read, do it. It is all about how we deal with what we feel that matters. When I chose to put it aside, it was still there and I never overcame it. Recognize it, face it, and let go of it – that makes all the difference. My worth is not defined by what I feel, I know that now. The reality is this – we are all human beings with our own varying problems and circumstances. Some are at the very peak, enjoying the best times of their life, while others their lowest and darkest times. Everyone has their own timelines; we must never compare our failures to others' successes. Who am I? Well, I am me – a daughter of the King of Kings and that is enough. What right do I have to feel this way? I have every right. My emotions are valid, and yours are too.
As you float stranded in the middle of the ocean, no one else in sight. Locked away from the outside world, prohibited accesses to any face to face contact. Alone. Drowning in a body of water as reckless waves continue to push you further down in the darkness. We lived what felt like normal life onshore, in the sand, no water nearby. Going to school five days a week, partaking in sporting events and extracurriculars, working a 9-5 job on the weekends to make a little extra money. We lived our normal life. Until everyone was unexpectedly thrown into the ocean, the waves from the water were fun at first. We'd only be in the water for a short time, vacation at most, a break from reality. It would all be done soon enough and life would return to our normal. But, as countless days passed, we began to feel isolated in the middle of the ocean. Nowhere to go and no new surroundings to see. As we roll into week 17 of our so-called “vacation”, we are drowning. The water begins pulling us in deeper and deeper down, drowning in nothing but our own thoughts and emotions. Mental health issues strick an ultimate high with 45% more people now struggling with these issues because of this ocean. As we take our last breath of normal life, the water drags us down into a dark, unknown place. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, comes crashing down on us like the waves of the ocean eliminating our ability to even grasp a breath of our passed normal life. The waves continue to pummel in, one after another, crashing down harder by the second. Unemployment, increase in COVID numbers, even the death of loved ones, all strike you further down into the water. You are now the farthest down in the dark you've even been. Experiencing thoughts like never before. Just you, alone, in the middle of the bottom of the ocean, no grasp of what it feels like to breathe normal air. Day by day new waves push you down more into the dark waters but you are not even affected anymore. You don't struggle, don't try to even attempt to not sink down. You go into the darkness making no effort to fight the pain of drowning. Some days you get pushed onto the shore, a little light in your life. Life feels so surreal, there is not a worldwide pandemic, but instead just you and your best friend. A taste of what normal life once felt like, a day outside with friends, funny jokes with your mom, finally finishing that show you binge-watched, but no matter how hard you try to stay in that moment forever. How hard you fight back to get your normal again the waves always will pull you back into the water. Bring you back down into that darkness of the ocean, alone, again. As you reach the surface of the water you can see the horizon, you can see normal life again. The life that we took for such guaranteed but would do anything to be able to breathe a single breath of that normal life just once. But the uncertainty strikes your eyes like fear. Having absolutely no idea when you will be able to reach that horizon? How far away it is? When will life every be so-called normal again? When will we be able to make it back to the horizon? But you have to continue to swim to try to make it there, day by day, because no matter the uncertainty, we will make it to that horizon. No matter how long it takes or what roadblocks come your way, eventually, you will. You will make it to that horizon. Be able to breathe than normal air, onshore, with no waves to pull you into that darkness that once overtook your mind. Eventually, we will be normal again, do not let the fear and uncertainty overcome the optimism.
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